Special schools raise skills standard
Updated: 2013-07-19 09:17
By Cecily Liu (China Daily)
A student is given a demonstration in bench-work skills at Festo's training center in Jinan. Provided to China Daily
European companies help to improve China's high-tech talent pool
A lack of skilled technicians in China has prompted many Western businesses to set up their own training centers in China.
This process is playing a significant role in helping China's labor force move up the skills-value chain, and furthering development of high-tech industries as a crucial step toward achieving sustainable urbanization.
In 2007, the German engineering and electronics company Bosch introduced an apprenticeship scheme to improve the skills of its Chinese employees.
"The success of the dual occupational training structure in Germany inspired us to bring the same model to China's market," says Ida Yuan, talent and learning director at Bosch China.
"As China's manufacturing industry moves up the value chain, its labor-intensive model is gradually being replaced by a technology-intensive model in which highly skilled workers are important."
The dual occupational training model sees apprentices alternating between theory learning at partner vocational training institutions and hands-on practice at Bosch's factories.
Since its launch, around 500 students have taken part in the apprenticeship program of which 190 have graduated and are working full-time at Bosch's factories, including those graduating this month.
Each training course lasts three years, with the first year focusing on theory and the remaining two on practice, so students can familiarize themselves with Bosch's production systems and corporate culture. The apprentices are mostly 18 to 20 years old.
The company has invested in four apprenticeship training centers in Suzhou, Nanjing, Beijing and Changsha.
The biggest is in Suzhou, which takes 120 apprentices a year and is equipped with the company's latest machines for them to practice on.
Yuan says the program focuses on four areas of hard skills - mechatronics, industries mechanics, toolmaking and car mechatronics - and on soft skills, including project management, team work, communications and English language skills.
The attention to detail taught on the training courses also helps students develop professional ethics, she says.
At each training center, a small maintenance calendar is kept, which documents the time and day on which a piece of equipment or tool needs to be checked to ensure it is fully functional.
"With well-educated talents from our apprenticeship program, we can reach the quality requirements of our customers, enhance our reputation for excellence and so ensure the long-term success of Bosch," Yuan says.
She says that the apprenticeship program is also a strong part of Bosch's corporate social responsibility to introduce value beyond the company.
"The program makes an important contribution to society, as it helps young people to become self-assured workers, working efficiently and confidently in certain technical areas, and to develop good communications and teamwork skills," she says.
Britta Buschfeld, head of recruitment, training and vocational training services for the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce (AHK) in China, says vocational education will play a crucial role in improving the skills value of China's labor force.
"What we need in China is not more academic graduates without practical knowledge but well-educated experts and specialists capable of catching up with the latest technologies and processes in companies," Buschfeld says.
"China's move from quantity to quality in production is in urgent need of employees who are well educated with practical knowledge, can fit company requirements, and are reliable and goal oriented."
AHK works in China to facilitate partnerships between companies and vocational schools, and to provide consulting services and independent quality assurance and certification for training courses.
It is also working on a teacher-training program in cooperation with the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and the Chinese Ministry of Education.
Festo, a German supplier of pneumatic and electrical automation technology, together with Jinan Vocational Training College, has invested around 1 million euros ($1.28 million) to establish a training center in the Shandong provincial capital.
After focusing on theoretical studies on campus for the first year, students will spend much of the second year in partner companies. The third year will be dedicated to on-the-job training in workshops.
Stefan Meining, head of Festo's Jinan training center, says its courses aim to turn students into skilled engineers with technical and teamwork skills, a sense of responsibility and an awareness of quality.
"We are aiming to equip our apprentices with both advanced knowledge in technologies and practical experience to be sufficiently competent and flexible, to immediately start working in an industrial process," Meining says.
He says it is important for industry workers to perform consistently and flexibly under time pressure, to communicate well with work partners, to master fine details of different technologies and respond intuitively and inquisitively when faced with seemingly irresolvable tasks.
"Festo gives high priority to developing apprentices' ability to think independently and improve their working processes and environments."
Festo constantly updates its training programs in response to industry demands, he says. A new program coming to China is its environmental discovery system for water management, which teaches students about water supply and waste water treatment. The course is now delivered in South Africa.
Beijing and Berlin established a vocational education cooperation alliance in June 2011 when China's then premier Wen Jiabao visited Germany. Less than a month later, China and Britain signed a memorandum of understanding on the same basis.
The British car company Jaguar Land Rover launched an apprenticeship program that September in China.
The program trains around 120 apprentices each year, expected to increase to 240 in the next few years, says George Yang, senior manager of service and technical training at Jaguar Land Rover China.
Yang's team selects apprentices while in their second year at college. They then receive one year of technical training at one of the company's three training centers.
Before graduating, the apprentices will have a six-month internship at the car company's dealerships, where about 85 percent end up staying, Yang says.
The apprenticeship scheme in China has provided good graduates for both its factories and dealerships, he says. He sees in them important qualities of technicians, including experience, technical knowledge, loyalty, a hard working attitude, honesty and teamwork skills.
The car company is also focusing on sharing its experience in vocational training on a wider scale, mainly by training teachers at partner colleges.
It has also designed an introduction course for all new workers with no experience in car manufacturing, which Yang says is a crucial part of corporate social responsibility for Jaguar Land Rover China.
(China Daily European Weekly 07/19/2013 page24)